Looking Back: LAPD Training Officers in the 70’s

The LAPD of today looks nothing like the LAPD of the 70’s. The old timers back then were haggard, rough and definitely shop worn. They hated everyone including themselves. That’s why they were training Officers. What they hated even more were young, fresh faced probationers. Whatever issues they had with the fairer sex would inevitably be taken out on you, the probationer. Issues at home? No problem. Issues with the kids? Again, no problem. Hangover? Really no problem. When you hit the car with them for patrol they were primed and ready to vent…on you, the probationer. Probationers were the perfect psychological foil. You can forget lawsuits back then…didn’t exist. You could forget going up the chain of command. Who do you think trained them? You took it and you liked it – plain and simple. I often wondered if they didn’t hate us more than the bad guys.

Most of these guys had an average of about 15 years on the job. Cynicism was par for the course. I was always referred to as junior. It was junior this and junior that. They didn’t like anybody. Didn’t like bad guys, didn’t like supervisors, didn’t like citizens, didn’t like victims, didn’t like cute fluffy things…didn’t like much of anything other than screwing with probationers. That they liked! It was the one thing in their life that couldn’t screw them back, couldn’t talk back, couldn’t look at them sideways and had to do exactly and precisely what they told them to do. It was the perfect marriage in their eyes. Divorce you say? If you thought that going to a supervisor concerning an issue you had with your training officer was, a good idea then think again. That was the ultimate traitorous act you could ever commit. To say that you would be toast from there on out is a mild understatement. You had not only betrayed your partner but the watch, the Division, the Department and the United States of America. You simply didn’t do it. You waited for him to either, take some days off, go on vacation, get sick or die. Those were your range of options until some unseen force intervened and set you free. Kinda’ like getting out of prison I suppose.
Mistakes were corrected the old fashioned way. I once screwed up a traffic report. My training Officer promptly ‘bought’ three more traffic calls. We went back to the station and he went home while I worked on the three reports all through the night, the morning and the next day until an hour before our PM watch started again. In he came to the report writing room, examined the reports made a few corrections and out we went again for another watch. Our well-being was not their concern nor was our mental health for that matter.
Anytime there was a search through a dumpster or filthy alley for body parts and the like, it would fall to the probationer to carry out the task, while your training Officer stood back supervising. If you can envision the filthiest, nastiest suspect you could ever want to come into contact with, who do you suppose had to search them? Back then we didn’t have fancy little latex gloves that Officers carry around with them today. Nope. You bought some black leather gloves that you kept in the back sap pocket and which you lost every single time in the space of one watch. After five sets of five gloves in five days you simply gave up and hoped you didn’t die from some unknown tropical infestation. I suppose their training Officer’s did the same to them so it was a sort of a skewed payback.
One of my training Officers was a former Marine Drill sergeant so you can imagine how well that worked out in the nurturing department. Despite the prevailing attitude of making the probationers life a living hell there were some good benefits. For instance you learned to do it right the first time. You learned to pay attention to detail. You learned about loyalty. You learned to be prepared at all times. If there was no forgiveness from them it was due to the fact that there was no forgiveness on the streets. It was always just you and your partner and that was it. By the time back up arrived anything going down was already well over. All you had was a glorified crime scene after that. You were expected to handle the situation just between the two of you come hell or high water.
In a sense those were some pretty heady days and it really gave you a sense of accomplishment at the end of each watch. Just two guys, one shotgun with had five rounds, two revolvers for which you had a total of 36 rounds between the two of you, two straight stick batons, and two handcuffs. That was it. Crush crime in the city, guard the citizens and restore law and order with the bare essentials and only your wits between the two of you. No wonder those guys were so tough now that I think about it.
The old timers had really worn leather gear and all the bluing on their revolvers had been worn to a silver metal finish. The hats were crushed and torn, the batons scarred and dinged and reflected the tiredness of their owners. If you want to watch a movie which captures some of this then watch The Choirboys. That’s pretty much what I experienced. The Ford Matador Black and Whites we used we called ‘city sleds’ and they were about as beat up as the old timers. They could really haul the mail but the air never worked and they were perpetually filthy and greasy and reeked of bad guys. If you were a ‘pretty boy’ or looking to make command staff then the streets were most definitely not for you. But…if you were a real honest to god street cop – then there was no other place you’d rather be. Somehow, the combination of beat up equipment, nasty training officers and the shared misery of other probationers made you feel a part of the streets and more importantly, the part of an experience. It was a very special era in the LAPD. Young Officers today ask me about it and I try to tell them but it’s rather hard to convey what a special moment in time it truly was.

This entry was posted in Articles Written by Scott Reitz. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Looking Back: LAPD Training Officers in the 70’s

  1. Rik Martin says:

    Scott,
    Love reading your stories! Keep them coming. Just one thing I need to point out since you know guns but I know my cars. It is a AMC Matador. We sold hundreds of them for LAPD at Ken Porter. They were sleds, filthy, handled like shit, but they did hall butt!

  2. Mike Voncannon says:

    Hi Scott,

    We came oin about the same time, Our night shift Watch Commander would look at me at least once a week and ask me if I was “Broke in yet.” When I told him I didn’t know what he meant; he would say “then you’re not.” After about 6 weeks on, one of our detectives and I were looking for a mental patient, and found him. After a lengthy fight (seemed like 15 minutes but was probably less than 5) we had him in cuffs but we were both bloody and clothes hanging off us. When the WC came in and saw me, he said “Now you’re broke in!” He meant he now knew I could be counted on to hold my own in a fight. All the aches and pains disappeared and I felt 10 feet tall and felt like I was now a real lawman. To this day, that is one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten.

    I have read about the Marines and how in the World War 2 expansion, The Old Breed (pre war Marines)served as the glue that held the young guys together through their first battles, much like the old guys that broke us in. Like John Waynes’s Sgt. Stryker in “Sands of Iwo Jima”

    I had a guy on my shift today grumbling about how his badge is looking worn. I told him to be happy, it seperates us from the rookies.

    Mike Voncannon
    Sevier County S. O.
    Sevierville, TN

  3. Don Bailey, Sr. says:

    I really enjoyed the reflection of your days as a probationer. I came on the job in 9/69, was treated like a junk yard dog. Bob Smithson would use me as his mascot, beat the crap out of me, demonstrated the infamous “Choke Hold” on me, my neck is still sore from his Big Popeye Arms. That being said, I loved it, hated to go home. You are right, the Training Officers were like Gods, didn’t kiss up to anyone below the rank of Chief. I loved those days. Thanks for sharing.
    Don

  4. Chuck Drum says:

    I was in the class of 4-70. Assigned to Then Venice Division. What I recall is being scrutinized at first then after doing some of the dirty work and pulling station security duty became part of the clicky day watch. We were always short handed so I ended up working an “L” car a few times just before the end if my probation and then on occasion being assigned as senior ofcr with new probationers right after getting off probation. I loved being a cop back in the 70s and early 80s then the Department transformed to a more politically correct Department. Chief Gates retired and so did the legacy of the good old days…….

  5. Jim Van Riper says:

    Came on the job in July – 1970. Was sent to Van Nuys Division when I got out of the academy. You mentioned the Matadors Scottie. My first patrol cars were the ’68 & ’69 Plymouths. Drove lake a bat out of Hell and turned on a dime. But if it was raining, the drum brakes couldn’t stop you for crap. Then those who knew what was best for us eventually got us the Mercury Montego’s. They went like a dragster on a straight run but couldn’t turn to save your life. They also had the low roof line that you would slam your head every time you hit a bump in the road. They didn’t really teach us this in the academy, but I learned “adaptability” in the streets.

  6. Ed Arambula, LAPD Class 4-19-71 says:

    Great account of what llife was like for us back in tbe day. I would’t trade that time of my life and career for anything. After surviving probation those tough street worn training offiers and tormentors became your best friends and mentors.

  7. Bob Laughton says:

    I was in the class of Oct 67. When we were assigned to patrol, we did not have what you call training ofc’s. You got, or they got what they were assigned – the boot. You were told to get the gear, put it and sorry ass in the car and speak only when spoken to. No one wanted to work with a boot because it split up regular partners.
    All the stuff mentioned in prior replies was correct, but we had good cars and they were screamers. The real police, the driver, not the boot would launch them onto the freeway at start of morning watch and wind them up. It was a great time even if they would not stop because of the bad breaks. There were other differences as well. During the Mini Riots, we were asked if we owned any long rifles. If so, bring one in and you are working in the back seat as the sniper. Never asked if we could shoot, just bring it and you were assigned. Then their was the “intoxicated” officer that was not send home and was told to work the desk. He refused followed by a disagreement, which escalated into a verbal altercation, which escalated into a 415, which escalated into an intoxicated 415 man with a gun drawing down on the W/C. At that point policemen and boots were belly crawling out of the roll call room. I have no idea how that was deescalated (which was not even a term used then), but no shots were fired and Blacky was put on the desk from that day forward.
    The most important thing the boot had to learn and fast was that no one was your friend. You never said anything about anyone period and especial not to a Sgt. If you put it in the form of a question, he made it a 1.81 and you were the reporting person. Heaven help you.

  8. Bruno Tonin - LAPD says:

    I was in the class of July 31, 1967, I turned 21 on July 26th. After graduation I was assigned to WLA Division. No training officers at that time, I worked morning watch patrol with senior officers who were in World War 2. They didn’t take shit from anyone.
    Worked with different officers while on the watch and learned how to stay alive.
    They were great men but some were so burned out that they needed to retire, but I kept my mouth shut and learned from some of LAPD’s finest.
    In 1969 I was transferred to University Division currently called South West Division and spend a few months there witnessing the good, bad and ugly of society.
    In 1970 I went to motor school and rode motors for almost the rest of my career. Made Sergeant in 1983 and after probation became a motor sergeant, retiring in 1987.
    When current officers ask me about the old days I just smile and say- we had fun.
    If you were never a police officer you would not know what I mean. I would do it again in a heart beat.
    Some of the men that posted here, are great guys and I am proud to have worked with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *